Four U.S. Congressmen published a letter Tuesday afternoon calling for the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate how the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority spent federal funds.
The letter, addressed to Rae Oliver Davis, HUD’s inspector general, suggests $75 million in grant money meant to get new power generators online after the hurricanes of 2017 had been wasted.
“The procurement of these generators was announced more than two years ago, and were ‘slated to be fully operational in early 2022,’ yet these units are still not operational,” the letter reads, quoting a WAPA press release. “Further, there doesn’t appear to be an objective timeline of when these four generators will come online. There appears to have been a woeful lack of preparation on the part of WAPA, in addition to a lack of oversight by the Department of Housing and Urban Development pertaining to the acquisition of these four generators. Shockingly, there is no plan to correct these mistakes.”
The letter urges HUD to “independently investigate this potential waste of taxpayer resources” and called the situation “completely unacceptable.”
The letter was released on the afternoon of a public holiday and officials at WAPA were not immediately available for comment. Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Also unavailable for comment were three of the letters’ four signatories, Republicans from Florida, Texas, and Ohio. It was unclear how they became interested in the territory’s power supply issues.
The office of lead signatory and presumed author Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida’s 19th District, didn’t return messages seeking comment. Donalds is a Tea Party enthusiast who voted to not certify results of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Unlike most Black members of the House of Representatives, he was blocked from joining the Congressional Black Caucus. He identified as part of the so-called Freedom Force, a group of new members in Congress who vowed to combat socialism.
Cosigners on the letter also included Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas’ 27th District, who supported a failed lawsuit contesting Biden’s election, refused to follow House rules to wear a COVID-deterring face covering while the House was stormed on Jan. 6, 2021, and voted against Congressional Gold Medals for Capitol Police who protected Congress during the siege.
Another signatory on the letter was Rep. Bob Gibbs of Ohio’s 7th District. Gibbs also contested the 2020 election, claiming widespread voter fraud, and backed a suit seeking to upend the election in court. In 2013 he fought to limit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate pesticide discharges.
Rep. Glenn Grothman was the only signatory to speak with the Source. Representing Wisconsin’s 6th District, Grothman has suggested equal-gender pay measures were unneeded, has worked to block same-sex marriage, and has bashed both Kwanzaa and Martin Luther King Jr. Day as unnecessary.
Grothman, reached on his personal mobile phone, seemed unaware of the letter, where his signature bears the marks of being only digitally attached.
He asked who the lead signer was and, when told it was Rep. Donalds, said it was the Florida representative’s idea, and he simply signed on.
“Well, uh, Byron is a good friend of mine. And if he’s interested, I’m interested. How’s that?” Grotherman said. “Well, Byron’s a sharp guy and if he needs help with more people on the letter, I’ll help him out.”
Grotherman said he had never been to the Virgin Islands and did not plan on going.
“No. I’ve got a whole world to see,” he said, then asked if the islands were beautiful.
The letter was distributed by Washington, D.C.-based DCI Group, a public relations firm that boasts the ability to sway opinion. DCI’s website outlines a plan to use small, local laws and regulations to influence congressional change.
“In an environment with entrenched partisanship, successfully engaging with policymakers on the state and local levels requires a well-developed plan, an authentic message, an understanding of key local issues and concerns, a team with long-established relationships, and a commitment to execution,” the website reads.
It also notes the U.S. government paid for the generators made by “a Finish company.” What the letter doesn’t explain is that the generators’ manufacturer, Helsinki-based Wartsila, is one of the leading experts in custom-built, emissions-sensitive power plants, creating energy solutions from Amsterdam to Brazil. It’s a power plant designer for much of the cruise ship industry.